Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Does the photographer make the scene or does the the scene make the photograph?

    I have heard two different theories on photography that seem contradictory, both from successful and well respected photographers. 

     The first is from a photography instructor I had in college. She said that a truly great photographer can and should find the art in the ordinary. The simple, or even what one might at first glance think is "ugly", can make a great photograph if one can find the beauty in it. And as a photographer, you should be able to find the beauty in it and be able to create wonderful art out of it. The photographer is what makes the scene great.  

    I read the other theory in a book recently. The author said that one should find truly great landscapes, scenes, people or objects to photograph because that alone will significantly improve one's images. An ordinary photo of the Grand Canyon is better than a really good photo of the drainage ditch next to the highway. The scene makes the photograph great, sometimes in spite of the photographer. 
     I personally believe that the first theory is the most correct. I think beauty is all around us and we experience it every day--whether we notice it or not is another story. I attempt to take notice and document it in photographs. 

     But a recent trip to the Hoover Dam gave credence to the second theory. It was an impromptu stop with family en route from Las Vegas to Phoenix at noon on a crowded day. The lighting was harsh, the desert was dry, the lake was low--yet, somehow, inspite of that, the photographs still conveyed the dramatic scene and the beauty of the massive structure, the deep canyon, the tall bridge, and the large lake. These photographs, which should have been "ordinary" because of the conditions, were actually pretty good.

     Did I make the photograph great? Or did the scene make the photograph great in spite of me?

     Perhaps it was a little of both, and there is some truth in both theories.